Widespread Panic

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Widespread Panic triumphantly returns to red rocks for sold-out run

:: Widespread Panic ::
:: Red Rocks Amphitheatre ::
::  June 25, 26 and 27 ::

By Hap Fry

John “Jojo” Hermann has had this night circled since Widespread Panic’s spring tour was in its infancy.

Yes, May 1 in Tulsa, Okla., indeed was going to be a special night for Hermann, the group’s keyboardist, and not just because the Kentucky Derby was staged earlier in the day.

“It may have been Richmond or it was Raleigh or I think it was even [Washington] D.C., when I looked up and saw Tulsa and said that’s where I’m going to get some sleep,” Hermann said. “I’m going to get some sleep in Tulsa.”

All things considered, Hermann and percussionist Domingo “Sunny” Ortiz looked well rested as they entered a dressing room at the BOK Center for an in-person interview with The Marquee. The fact that they even looked rested is saying something when you consider the week Hermann, Ortiz and the rest of Widespread Panic had.

Tulsa just so happened to be the final stop of a long and memorable week that included shows in Richmond, Va., Raleigh, N.C., Memphis, Tenn., a trip to New Orleans for Jazz Fest, and even a stop the day before in a Birmingham, Ala., bar to play a rare early-afternoon show that conjured up memories of bands from the ’60s and ’70s — like when the Rolling Stones jumped off the highway and set up shop at the first place that caught their eye.

“We probably have not had a week like this since ’89 or ’90,” said Ortiz. “It’s just like the old days; you never know what to expect.”

Fans of the Georgia-based sextet have come to expect a yearly run at Red Rocks, but the group shook things up a little bit last year when they passed up playing the famed venue for just the second year since 1996 — the first came in 2004 when they took a year off — to play the Mile High Music Festival instead.

The group will make its return to Red Rocks later this month for three days that will extend its record consecutive sell-out streak to 35 shows at the venue. “We don’t know much about the future except we know we’re going to do Red Rocks,” Ortiz said.

The group has added 12 more songs to its ever-enlarging repertoire after releasing its newest studio album, Dirty Side Down, in late May. The album features old standbys like “North” and a reworked “Visiting Day,” along with a song written by the late Vic Chesnutt titled “This Cruel Thing,” and some potentially great new ballads like “Saint Ex,” “Shut Up and Drive,” and “Jaded Tourist.” A few of the tracks came out of a writing session of John Bell, Jimmy Herring and Hermann. And the album’s title track ended up being a last-minute addition.

“Jimmy came in with ‘Dirty Side Down’ at the very last second,” Hermann said. “Dave [Schools] had to fly home to do some side gigs, so we had to rush in and make sure we finished all the tracking so he could make those gigs. Jimmy had ‘Dirty Side Down,’ and we just laid it in last second. I mean, we just got in there.”

Herring —who joined the group in 2006, having established himself in bands like Aquarium Rescue Unit, Jazz is Dead, several post-Grateful Dead incarnations and the Allman Brothers Band — has done a lot more for the band than come up with last-second song offerings. Hermann and Ortiz both believe the lead guitarist has provided stability and helped transform the group back into the six-headed monster that they originally were.

“It’s like we’re a band,” Hermann said. “We’re six people all on stage contributing. The process of the six of us becoming a band is a long process, but you never stop becoming a band. You’re always reinventing your relationships or your conversations on stage. Jimmy’s definitely a part of that.”

While the group has armed itself with new material this summer, a few forgotten songs could be making their way back into the rotation. Hermann said “Fishing” is one that has to come back and that the group also has been rehearsing the very-underrated “Monstrosity.” Both songs originally appeared on the album Ball. As of late, the only song that is played in regular rotation from that album is “Papa Johnny Road.”

But as Ortiz pointed out, the band is never starving for material. “There’s never a problem with what we’re going to play,” he said. “It’s more like how are we going to fit everything in? We do a lot of rehearsing and we do a lot of writing, so the train keeps moving. With that in mind, there’s going to be some songs that are going to be shelved, but not canned. Everything is wide open,” Ortiz said.

Most importantly, the group continues to be having fun, even after 20-plus years on the road together. “It’s a dream gig,” Hermann said.

“It’s just the whole vitality of being fresh and being able to open up new ideas,” added Ortiz. “It’s the fans, to me, that make it more exciting. Every night is different. That’s what makes it still fun and enjoyable. Every night is different.”

:: Widespread Panic ::

:: Red Rocks Amphitheatre ::

:: June 25, 26 and 27 ::

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